For the Past three years of my life, the coming of summer has been heralded by a barrage of final exams. The last official memory of each school year has always been the last word of the last essay response of the last exam. In high school, only one out of four years ends any differently. Only at the culmination of senior year do we encounter something different.
There is no single ceremony that carries as much symbolic weight as graduation. Graduation is the closest thing we have to a rite of passage; it marks the transition from childhood to adulthood. When you are handed your diploma, you are handed your future.
When I read about other cultures’ rites of passage, I often feel grateful that all I’ll have to do next year is put on a funny hat and sit on a chair for a few hours. On Vanuatu’s Pentecost Island, young men are accepted into adulthood only after they have successfully participated in naghol, the land diving tradition.
Part rite of passage, part harvest festival, this celebration entails jumping off makeshift wooden towers of 100 feet or greater in height with two ankle-bound vines as the only safety precautions. The jumpers climb to increasingly high positions on the tower and dive headfirst toward the ground, ideally landing with their shoulders resting lightly on the soil.
Compared to that, our notion of threshold-crossing is an easy jaunt through the park. There’s no death-defying stunt or required demonstration of fearlessness. Graduates don’t need to endure tests of physical strength or mental fortitude. The only feat of survival at any graduation is accomplished by the band members, who play “Pomp and Circumstance” and “Sine Nomine” until their faces melt from exhaustion.
I decided to write about graduation this year because I can; as a junior, there’s enough distance between myself and the event that I can analyze it without being deluged in an upwelling of nostalgic emotion. (There will be absolutely no chance of thinking critically when I’m the one accepting the diploma.)
Seeing my friends prepare for graduation this year makes me terrifyingly aware of my own graduation next June. Senior year, the final frontier, is almost upon me. Hopefully at some point I will stop thinking about it as a year of lasts and begin thinking about everything that lies ahead.
It’s difficult to approach the end of a long chapter of my life, but it’s inevitable: Growing up happens. That kind of finality is particularly devastating to anticipate. At the end of each school year, my class gets a few inches closer to the peak of the high school experience. It’s almost as if we’re climbing a mountain, but only the seniors can see what’s on the other side of the summit.
However, not every graduation features seniors. When I attended my sister’s eighth grade graduation last week, I was not prepared for the effect it would have on me. Hearing her name being called and watching her awkward but resolute smile was a much more profound experience than my own eighth-grade graduation.
I could remember how I felt three years ago, and I saw her going through the same cycle of emotions. I recognized that now we’ve shared something remarkable: the same moment in different years. Watching my sister grow up forces me to stop climbing the mountain for a second and look down the slope; only then do I realize how far I’ve come and also how far I have yet to go.
Unlike the Vanuatuan naghol ritual, the challenge of graduation is not the ceremony itself or even the four years of high school that precede it; the real test lies within the obstacles yet to come. To graduating seniors: I know that you will face down whatever attempts to block your way. I am proud to call some of you my friends, and I hope that when my time comes, I will leap from my tower with the conviction of self and dauntless spirit that you have taught me by example.
Congratulations to the Class of 2014!Emily Ge, a junior at Charles Wright Academy, lives in Gig Harbor. She is one of five reader columnists whose work appears on this page. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.